New census taken over the weekend

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State officials undertook Norway’s first official census since 2001 on Saturday. As Norway’s population reaches, and may surpass, the 5-million mark, the census information will have a great impact on the efficiency of how the state can operate over the next decade.

Census information will be used to plan construction of schools, hospitals and other public projects. For most residents of Norway, however, the census-taking went almost unnoticed, since the state already sits on a wealth of information through its central registry known as Folkeregisteret.

That’s the official state body that issues personal numbers (the equivalent of a Social Security number in the US, for example) and to which all residents of Norway must report in order to obtain such important items of daily life as bank accounts and the tax cards that allow legal employment. Norway’s Folkeregister includes not just names and birth dates but also registered addresses, and residents must always notify it when they move and change address.

Lower census costs in Norway
Another state register, Matrikkelen, contains information on real estate ownership while state welfare agency NAV contains information on employment or unemployment. Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that all this information, already on hand, means the state’s cost of conducting the actual census is far lower in Norway than in most other countries.

The census is expected to cost the state treasury around NOK 15 million, or NOK 3 (about 50 US cents) per person, compared to the equivalent of NOK 240 (USD 40) per citizen for a US census and NOK 60 per citizen in the UK. That’s because the US has no equivalent of the Folkeregister, for privacy reasons. The Norwegian state, on the other hand, collects and stores much more data on its residents than do most other countries, and also has developed systems for coordinating the information among various state agencies.

That makes it much easier and less costly when census time rolls around. “We use data that’s collected from other public agencies,” Harald Utne, a senior adviser at state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway), told Aftenposten.

US ’40 years behind’
He said the cost of last year’s US census amounted to around NOK 80 billion, compared to Norway’s NOK 15 million, because census-takers had to go from house to house or send and receive questionnaires from around 300 million Americans. “The US uses methods we used in 1970,” Utne said.

Norway, which conducted its first census in 1769, ranks behind both Denmark and Finland in efficient census-taking, however. Both of those countries have been collecting all information needed in a census through data registers since the 1980s.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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